To Birth or Not To Birth: Gender Roles, Birth Policies, and Family Planning
by Caroline (painting is “Giving Birth” by Dumitru Verdianu)
A fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine details certain population trends in developed countries.
Here are some of its main points:
As a whole, the population of Western Europe is falling drastically. In the 1960’s, Europe was 12.5% of the world’s population. By 2050, it will only be 5%.
Apparently, Europe, particularly Southern Europe, is in a bind. A country needs a birth rate of 2.1 to sustain population. However, Southern Europe has fallen below the 1.3 mark. Women in Italy, Spain and Greece are deciding to have only one or two children. This makes certain policy makers panic. What will happen to their cultural identity? What labor force will pay the pensions of a burgeoning aging population?
On the other hand, Scandinavian countries appear to be doing much better. Norway has a birth rate of 1.8. Excellent for Europe.
This downward birthing trend has made researchers question why the birth rate of Southern Europe is so low relative to Northern Europe. No doubt many factors contribute, but one the author emphasizes is traditional gender roles. While Southern Europe is modern and developed, there is a lot of social pressure for moms to stay home. Combine that with dads who are not very helpful with the kids and the house, and you get women who are saying basta to bambinis. Additionally, the government does not have strong pro-natalist policies which reward people financially for giving birth.
Contrast that with Norway, which has aggressive pro-birth policies. Norway guarantees a woman 54 weeks of maternity leave and pays her 80% of her salary during that time. Dads also get a month and a half of leave. Additionally, women get paid about $7000 for every child. And as for gender equity, both parents tend to work, but parents tend to share child care duties more equitably.
The U.S.A. stands apart from other modern, Western societies in its relatively vibrant birthrate of 2.1. Social scientists scratch their heads at this but have come up with a few reasons. a) Americans are more religious. b) While the American gov’t doesn’t have strong pro-birth policies, it does have a more flexible labor force. Women can often take a few years off and then jump back into their careers.
This article spurred a lot of questions in my mind about my own family planning decisions. Does gender equity play a part in my decisions about family size? Would I have more kids if the government subsidized day care and paid me chunks of money to do so? Hmmm….. I’m not sure, but I think they would play some sort of role in my decision. As it stands right now, I’m leaning towards having 2 or 3 kids, and here are some of the factors that are at play:
a) my desire to focus attention on each child. I worry that the more I have, the less individual attention I’ll be able to give them.
b) My mental and emotional health. Having The Beast is stressful. While he’s adorable, I might go bonkers if I had 2 or 3 more of him.
c) My desire to pursue things in life other than active mothering. (career, school, volunteering, etc.) This makes me lean toward 2.
d) Mike’s desire for that third child. (He’d actually like 4, but believes that I have more say in the joint decision, so he doesn’t pressure.)
e) The fact that Mike is VERY helpful with the house/childcare and has a flexible schedule. Makes me think I might be able to handle 3.
f) The fact that I would someday like to have a decent amount of kids and grandkids come over for Christmas.
g) Money. Don’t want to be enormously stressed financially. But luckily for us, that’s not a big concern since we’re living comfortably.
h) God. Not a huge factor for me, however, since I think God wants us to evaluate our individual situations and thoughtfully do what we think best.
What factors contribute to your decision on how many kids to have? What role does your religious faith have in the decision? Do you worry about overpopulation? Do you feel like you’ll be able to reenter (or stay) in the workforce after you have children (if you even want to)? Is your husband’s helpfulness a factor in deciding whether or not to have a big family?